Cavern Rock is a sprawling town set into the side of the Black Riage mountain range. The town is very new, having grown up rapidly due to the success of their primary attraction, the cavern in the mountain and the strange artifact it contains. Found by two exploring Glaives, Gray and Norlup, the path to the cavern was originally nothing but a fissure in the rock face lit from inside by a pale, reddish light. What they discovered inside led them to recruit others to create a proper tunnel to the cavern but it was Gray’s business acumen that lead to the founding of the town and Norlup’s talent for violence that earned the town much of it’s initial money, infamy and custom when together they used the cavern to found what would simply be called The Arena. Gray and Norlup are both gone now, but their legacy lives on and the town is still run in part by their offspring and those of the original founders. Known to many as the Bookkeepers, they rule the town only so much that money flows into their pockets and that their main attraction is not threatened. As such, Cavern Rock is not the safest or happiest place to live, but it is a fun place to visit for those interested in the entertainments it offers.
As a new visitor to Cavern Rock and the Arena, the first thing you’ll see are all sorts of stalls selling food for spectators, weapons and armour for competitors or even cyphers and improvised tools for helping with maneuvering in mid-air. The town bustles with activity, the excited whispers of gamblers talking about their bets and systems, the calls of men and women who will provide private distractions to fill the time until the next match and the sounds of blade meeting blade as hopeful competitors practice and spar. Through all the rabble cuts a clear path straight towards the dark rock face of the mountains and into a roughly carved tunnel that leads down deeper into the mountain at a steep angle. There is a faint red light coming from the far end of the tunnel but it’s mostly washed out by the white light of glowglobes that line the walls of the tunnel, revealing hundreds of old winning betting slips, caricatures of fighters and totems of affection that line the walls, turning the tunnel into an almost-shrine. Large guards with wicked looking weapons line the tunnel, guarding against those that try to enter without a betting-slip – as they’ll say only those willing to take a risk are worthy to watch other risk everything in the Arena.
Reaching the actual cavern itself, the sight is one to behold as you step onto a large ledge that lines the equator of an enormous sphere carved out of the rock. Glowglobes have been set into the rock all across the ceiling of the massive expanse, making the huge, almost perfectly spherical cavern seem like it’s covered with stars. The walls are lines with seats carved into the rock in great steps but the most interesting sight is what lies down at the bottom. At the bottom of the cavern is a large, dome like structure that pulses with an angry, crackling red energy unlike anything you have ever seen. The dome looks like it’s part of a much large structure beneath the rock but it will soon become apparent that further investigation is impossible.
People finish taking their seats as klaxons sound the beginning of a match and from two extended ledges that stick out further towards the center of the huge expanse run a pair of combatants. The two fighters run towards the edge of their respective ledges and just as they reach the edge, they leap, jumping into the open air over an expanse they could never hope to cover. But they don’t fall, instead they soar, floating through the air as if gravity itself is their enemy and they pull their weapons and attack each other, steel against steel as they fight, weightless, each stroke of the blade sending the other flying.
The battle lasts for what seems like an age. One combatant uses a cypher to grow great, bat-like wings granting him a huge advantage in maneuverability and it seems like he is clearly going to win but another klaxon sounds and a gasp is let out from the crowd members who have seen this before and know what is coming. A red glow emanates from the energy dome below, angrier and hotter and a scratching mechanical noise, almost a voice but incomprehensible rings out. It says something and the crowd shout “FIVE!”. It says something else and the glow gets brighter, the crowd yells “FOUR!”. Again, “THREE!”, then “TWO!” and then the crowd leaps up roaring in a frenzy of excitement as the machine voice says something unintelligible. “ONE!” they yell as the two combatants break combat and flee to their respective sides of the arena, but it’s too late. The dome pulses and before you can even register what is happening the winged warrior is disintegrated in a burst of red energy. The remaining combatant is hooked by lasso and pulled back to his ledge as another pulse rings out. It catches his feet still hanging over the edge as he lands, disintegrating them just as it had his opponent. He shakes violently from shock and healers rush to attend him, the crowd is tense, some are standing, yelling, crying but mostly there is silence as everyone holds their breath in anticipation.
Then the combatant is lifted up on the shoulders of his sponsors and he waves, grinning and the crowd goes wild. He will be paid handsomely, though he’ll earn only a fraction that the bookkeepers will rake in from the bets. Even so, it will be more than enough to hire a healer with the skills required or buy a numenera with the ability to restore his feet. He’ll do it too, for another match and another chance for shins and glory.
You hear those next to you discussing strategy, praising the survivor on his choice not to use cyphers.
The Arena always takes those that use something extra first, he knew the risks and chose right.
Bah! He got lucky! Another will say. A win by combat pays double a dome-win and a cypher for a quick win is a sound strategy. A Dome-win is for cowards.
The spectators file out to collect their winnings or drown the sorrows of their losses and the machine voice echoes, perhaps in congratulations of the winner as the dome fades to it’s more muted, yet still brilliant crackling colour.
Cavern Rock Hearsay:
There has always been an underground betting market for those that don’t want to follow the Bookkeepers rules but the Bookkeepers have always stamped down on them, crushing any threat to their revenue stream. However, there have been rumours of a rival group of bookies that haven’t been run out or killed, a group that have survived and are even thriving within the town of Cavern Rock and are making a mighty profit. There has been talk they may even be planning a coup.
Gray and Norlup are treated as almost legendary figures in the town and a statue of the pair of them was commissioned and placed in courtyard entrance to the cavern. Recently, someone has defaced the statue, damaging the faces and breaking the stone weapons. No-one knows who would do such a thing or why anyone would want to disrespect the heroes of Cavern Rock. The Arena never closes so the courtyard is always busy, but no-one has ever seen the culprit or at least, no-one has admitted to it. Every time the statue is repaired, new damage is always done within a few days.
The Arena had to temporarily be closed when a fighter smuggled in an explosive cypher that caused damage to the Arena, killing several spectators and requiring repairs. At least that is the official story, but some think that perhaps the dome is responsible and fear for the Arena’s, and the town’s, future.
The Weird of Cavern Rock:
A man disintegrated in the Arena was found wandering the streets of Cavern Rock, naked, afraid and with no idea who he was. A lot of people are afraid that his appearance might effect the winnings they collected.
An intelligent, humanoid machine from the Weal of Baz has set up a church at the outskirts of town. Every Arena match he sits with the spectators and communes, whispering to himself in a curious voice not unlike that of the dome. He is slowly gaining a following among fighters who believe that a blessing from him, which he gives freely in the form of mysterious implants, will grant them luck in the arena. So far, such beliefs have not been proven wrong.
Points of Interest:
The entry point to the Arena tunnel and the busiest place in the town. The area is lined with whatever market stalls are willing to pay the exorbitant fees to get the most business from this last stop before the Arena proper.
In the center of the courtyard stands the statue of Gray and Norlup, the twin Glaives who discovered the dome and founded the town and the Arena.
The tunnel to the Arena is almost as much of an attraction as the Arena itself. Lined with all sorts of charms and totems, the tunnel doubles as a shrine to the fallen and a place for better to pray for their champions. As a tradition, all previous winning betting slips are pasted into the tunnels surface and the walls and ceiling are coated in layers upon layers of betting scrips, reminding those who enter of the lucky winners that have left with more shins in their pockets than they entered.
There are many drinking establishments in the town, but none are as popular as the Flying Fist. A large building just off the courtyard of heroes, the Fist as it’s often shortened to is often the first place champions frequent after a successful match. The Fist is run by a friendly, older woman called Feirl Knoa and as well as the best ale in town also provides food to warm bellies and companions to warm beds. Feirl is known by everyone in Cavern Rock and is always chatting with everyone at the bar, treating strangers and regulars alike as if they were family. Music is played all day and all night by Feirl’s daughter Darande, who is a mean player of an unusual instrument she calls the shift-harp and an even meaner card shark. Whilst the Bookkeepers regulate the Arena with extreme prejudice, other games are freely allowed and Darande runs her own games of chance in between performances.
Norlup’s Blade is a weapons shop and blacksmith run by none other than Norlup’s adopted son Bren-Jam. A Lattimor with great skill, Bren-Jam creates some of the most exquisite and expensive weapons and armour this side of the Black Riage and he likes to boast that no champion equipped with one of his wares has ever been defeated in the Arena. Whilst this claim isn’t exactly true, nobody wants to call Bren-Jam out on his claims – everyone knows Lattimors aren’t known for stability, and insulting a member of the Bookkeepers family is not considered a wise course of action.
This article was originally posted on TheNinthWorld.com.
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